When the LSD King Timothy Leary Hid in Africa with the Black Panthers
In 1970 the man Richard Nixon called ‘the most dangerous man in America’ broke out of jail and escaped to Algeria, where he briefly enjoyed the hospitality of the Black Panthers.
Richard Nixon’s secretary of state, William Rogers, is sending terse orders to the head of American operations in Algiers, Bill Eagleton: “Express [U.S. government] astonishment that GOA [Government of Algeria] has accorded political asylum to Leary and that we can only assume GOA is unfamiliar with Leary’s background. In interests of future American Algerian relations GOA should be aware unfortunate impact granting of asylum to individuals such as Leary is likely to have on Algeria’s image in the US.”
Eagleton knows this has everything to do with Nixon wanting Leary captured and brought back to prison. He calls his main contact in the Algerian government, Foreign Minister Abdelkader Bousselham, who invites him to his office. The American grabs his satchel and stuffs it with press clippings from the United States about Timothy Leary—including the Playboy interview where Leary talks about LSD as the world’s greatest aphrodisiac and gushes over the sexual activity of teenage girls.
Within minutes, Eagleton is at the Foreign Ministry, a white domed building surrounded by palm trees. He shows Bousselham the clippings. The Algerian is stunned. He had no idea that Leary was a white man, much less a notorious drug advocate. The two men are deep in conversation when a bomb suddenly explodes on the ground floor. Smoke fills the building and everyone scrambles for the exits. Eagleton is unhurt, and as he runs outside, Bousselham tries to assure him that the blast is no big deal, perhaps simply an accident.
Eagleton doesn’t know what to say. He flees, leaving the press clippings with Bousselham. Maybe the Algerian leadership will now understand who the hell Timothy Leary is. Hopefully, they’ll also realize they have been royally scammed by Eldridge Cleaver and the Black Panthers. It’s October 22, Timothy Leary’s fiftieth birthday, and journalists and TV cameramen are flooding the Algiers airport, demanding to be allowed into the country—they want to interview Leary, Cleaver, and Dohrn to report on this gathering of U.S. revolutionaries in North Africa.
In New York, the bewildered Algerian ambassador to the United Nations is besieged with questions about his views on LSD and other psychedelic drugs. Newspapers around the world are carrying front-page stories about Algeria as the new haven for hallucinogens. In Algiers, the official newspaper, El Moudjahid, is publishing a “clarification” about its earlier story: Timothy Leary is, in fact, not a black man.
Eagleton, the American consul, is keeping the pressure on the Algerians. He asks for another meeting, this time at El Mouradia, the presidential palace. He has arranged to see one of the top figures in Algeria’s ruling party, a close advisor to President Houari Boumédiène.
Eagleton greets the minister in Arabic, pleased to see that the man has a copy of the Leary press clippings Eagleton turned over yesterday. The minister tells Eagleton he is violently opposed to drugs and he is indignant that someone like Timothy Leary could be allowed into his country. They talk for two hours. The minister assures Eagleton that Leary’s permanent asylum in Algeria is far from a sure thing. In fact, he says, he would bet against it.
Eagleton rushes back to his office and files a new cable with Secretary of State Rogers. There is a very good chance the Algerians are going to expel Timothy Leary—and very soon.
At the Panther embassy, the telephone is ringing nonstop. Phone lines are backing up as reporters demand interviews. Black Panther Supreme Commander Huey P. Newton phones from California to ask what the hell is going on.
In the living room, Tim and the other men stretch out on the overstuffed cushions, passing the hash pipe and trying to figure out how the press conference will go down tomorrow. There are long, elaborate discussions of rhetorical strategies, agonizing digressions involving obscure ideological nuances. None of the women are included in this planning session. An unofficial observer from the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Dennis Martino, is allowed to sit in since he’s providing the hashish. Jennifer Dohrn is in the kitchen, baking a birthday cake for Tim. Studying the scene, Anita Hoffman is growing disgusted. She didn’t come all the way to Algiers to work in the kitchen.
Suddenly, Field Marshal DC rushes into the embassy with an announcement: “The Algerian government has just found out that Leary’s not black, that he’s the acid king. In New York their representative to the UN is a laughingstock.”
The next phone call is from a local number, and it is for Cleaver. He is being summoned to appear immediately at the government party headquarters.
When he returns a few hours later, the news is grim. The Algerians have canceled tomorrow’s press conference, he says. Sighs and groans sweep across the room.
There’s more, Cleaver says. We’re not sure that Dr. Leary will be able to stay in Algeria.
Tim and Rosemary are sitting together in a corner, holding hands. They turn to look at each other. Every police agency in the world knows where they are. Where can they possibly run to next if they can’t stay in Algeria?
But don’t worry, Eldridge tells everyone. I’m working on a plan.
The next morning, Tim and Rosemary drive the rain-slicked streets to the embassy. The city seems more cloistered than before, like everyone has turned to trailing gray smoke and disappeared into the Casbah.
Cleaver hisses that reactionaries within the Algerian ruling party are trying to use Leary as a scapegoat, to flip the government away from the Black Panthers and over to Nixon. But Cleaver’s been talking to his own allies in the government, and now he has a solution:
The Algerian president is enamored of the Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas and their daring hijackings and hostage standoffs. While much of the world condemns the PLO’s violent tactics, Algeria remains a staunch supporter. All Tim has to do is fly to Egypt, then Lebanon, and then slip into Jordan for a meeting with the PLO. Once he gets his photograph taken with the guerrilla leaders, and the images are released to the press, his political asylum in Algeria will be guaranteed.
Tim watches as Cleaver holds out an airline ticket. He reaches for it and looks closely. He’s relieved to see that it’s round-trip.
Cleaver orders Jennifer Dohrn and Field Marshal DC to join Leary on the trip. He pulls DC aside and gestures toward Tim: “Get this motherfucker out of the country.”
From the book The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD. Copyright (c) 2018 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis. Reprinted by permission of Twelve/Hachette Book Group, New York, NY. All rights reserved.